Thursday, June 14, 2018

PARSHAS KORACH 5778


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS KORACH 5778
“ALL IN THE EXPECTATIONS”[1]

I heard the following story, and then found it written by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein. It is taken from aish.com. It is a story that could only happen in Eretz Yisroel:

It was right after Rosh Hashanah, in Bnei Brak, one of Israel’s most densely populated communities, and thousands of visiting families of every age and description were congregating around the ubiquitous Israeli bus stops eagerly waiting to get home. The bus stop reserved for the 402-express line to Jerusalem was extremely crowded as tired seniors, parents blessed with many children and crying infants were waiting none-too-patiently for a bus that was nowhere in sight.
After what seemed an eternity, an Egged bus could finally be spotted in the distance. But relief turned to dismay as the bus pulled into the station. It was #318, heading for Rechovot, not Jerusalem. The poor driver was besieged by the disappointed passengers. “Look at the size of this crowd! Can’t you help us get to Jerusalem!” they begged. “Have mercy on our senior citizens who have been standing here forever,” they asked. The driver, while sympathetic, pointed to the numbers 318 and said, “This bus goes to Rechovot and there’s not much I can do about it.”
The parents of a wailing infant approached the driver and said, “Have you no heart at all? Please for the sake of the babies who are suffering here by the roadside…”
This plea seemed to resonate with the driver, who actually got up from his seat and announced with some resignation in his voice, “Okay, okay. We’re going to Jerusalem,” as he fiddled with buttons that transformed the bus into a 402 Express.
Smiles broke out and the crowd spontaneously cheered. As they climbed aboard, the passengers thanked the driver profusely for his extraordinary kindness and wished him the traditional holiday blessings reserved for those we love and hold dear.
“May you live a long, healthy life,” wished a Hasidic older gentleman. “May you prosper greatly,” said a grateful young mother. “May your children become leaders of Israel,” a rabbi said.
The packed bus left the station as the maximum number of allowable standees gripped the bars. A gentleman approached the driver and asked if he could use the public-address system for a special announcement. After the slightest hesitation, the diver said, “Sure, why not.”
The man clutched the mic and launched into a masterful speech about just what kind of man this bus driver must be, sprinkling his remarks with adjectives like “a saint,” “a giant of a man,” “someone of sterling character who deserves our everlasting gratitude…”
Loud applause capped the man’s eloquent speech and things began to settle down. Just minutes before reaching the central bus station in Jerusalem a young man approached the driver and asked, “Do you mind if I asked you a question?”
“Not at all,” said the driver.
“Despite your really beautiful act of kindness, I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you were prepared to probably lose your job over what you did. No self-respecting bus company would ever let a driver get away with changing his route on the fly, regardless of how nice a gesture it is.”
The driver responded with a chuckle. “Let me tell what really happened. Back at the depot we’ve got cameras trained upon all the busier bus stops. At some point my supervisor saw the swelling crowd at the 402 stop and how the mob was beginning to turn ugly. The kids screaming, their parents complaining, he yelled out to the waiting drivers, ‘Who wants to do the Jerusalem run?’
“My friend Dovid says, ‘Not me. I don’t want to be cursed by all those cranky people.’ My buddy Shimon calls out, ‘You wouldn’t believe the abuse I got on the 402 last Saturday night. Not me!’ And so it went with all the drivers.
“I called out, ‘I’ll take it and I bet you I can transform the curses and complaints of all those frantic Jews into heartfelt blessings!’ They looked at me like I was nuts, but I just climbed onto the bus changed the numbers to 318 and it worked like a charm! I haven’t been blessed like that since my Bar Mitzvah!”
The best way to transform misery into blessing is simply to drop the sense of expectation and entitlement, and just like the driver of bus 318/402 and his passengers, live (more) happily ever after.

A rebbe shared that there was a sign hanging by the yeshiva’s secretary’s desk: “Don’t complain about what you didn’t get; just be happy you don’t get what you deserve!”
Our level of happiness and satisfaction in life are interconnected with our expectations. When we look at what others have and feel that we are lacking, we are unable to fully appreciate the blessings we have.
Not too long ago, it was in vogue for families living in the city to leave their apartments and homes for the two months of summer to head up to the Catskills Mountains. Truthfully, it is still common, as is apparent by the fact that one can easily find parking on 13th Avenue in Boro Park or Avenue J in Flatbush during July and August. However, years ago families would crowd into dilapidated, run-down, mice infested two room bungalows for the summer, as my family did during my youth before we moved to Monsey. Despite the lack of comfortable accommodations, we all looked forward to the time we spent in the bungalow colony surrounded by friends in a carefree atmosphere.
Today, most people wouldn’t be able to handle those bungalows. Many people have summer homes in the mountains that are nicer than their apartments in the city. One of the main reasons is that years ago, most people who went up to the mountains tolerated, and even enjoyed that life. When everyone around us is living based on a certain standard, we can be happy doing it too. But as soon as people start living on a higher standard, it causes a ripple effect, and within a short time no one is happy with what they used to be content with.
When we live with a feeling of entitlement, it impedes us from enjoying what we have.
Korach was one of the carriers of the holy Aron, a member of Shevet Levi, and a respected wealthy individual.
What drove him to rebel against Moshe and earn him a place of infamy for all time? Chazal say, “his eyes fooled him”. He looked beyond himself and, instead of appreciating the greatness he attained, he enviously saw what more others had attained.
When it’s never enough, one can never feel content with what he has.
The gemara[2] relates that when certain Amoriam would take leave of each other they would bless each other, “May you see your "עולם" during your lifetime.”
Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l explained that the word עולם is an expression of ha’almah – hiddenness. Every person possesses innate talent and capabilities. When we are young those talents are hidden, until we discover them. The blessing they conferred upon each other was that they recognize their internal greatness, and that they see their ‘hidden qualities’ during their lifetimes, so they could utilize them to serve Hashem and His people.
The Mishna[3] states: “Rabbi Elazar Hakappar said – jealousy, desire, and honor remove a person from the world.”
We can add the blessing they conferred upon each other was also that they should be able to be content with what G-d has granted them – in regard to whatever prestige, acumen, finances, and social standing they were blessed with. If one is not smitten by the curse of envy, avarice, and lust they will be able to enjoy and appreciate the life/world that G-d has granted them.
Korach was destroyed because of his pursuit of what was beyond him. One can only be content when he doesn’t set his expectations too high. Our society bombards us with messages about how ‘we deserve it’, and are lacking if we don’t have what everyone else has. Our generation doesn’t seem happy or content.
The Torah teaches us to learn to be satisfied with the blessings we have been granted, including our intelligence, family, community, finances, and health.

“His eyes fooled him”
“May you see your world during your lifetime”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor



[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Korach 5777.
[2] Berachos 17a
[3] Avos 4:21

Thursday, June 7, 2018

PARSHAS SHELACH 5778


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS SHELACH 5778
“FOR THE SAKE OF WHOM”[1]

Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman is known as "the Disco Rabbi" due to his amazing success at reaching out to boys and girls in their own "habitat" and bringing them closer to Hashem and His Torah. There are many amazing stories about this remarkable person and his unconditional love for every single Jew. The following was published by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat who witnessed it:
“Allow me to share with you a story from my previous life in the exile of the West Side of New York City, which taught me how the word can bring sanctity into the most unlikely of places:
“In the early 1970's, a disco opened up in a window storefront building on 72nd Street and Broadway; despite the fact that it was called the Tel Aviv Disco and was owned by Israelis living in New York, it remained open every night of the year, even Kol Nidre night. I must have placed at least two dozen calls to the owners to try to persuade them to close at least on the night of Yom Kippur, only to have finally received a message from their secretary informing me that the owners would not speak to rabbis!!
“During this period, Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman - a beloved and respected friend who is the Rav of Migdal Ha'Emek - spent Shabbat with us at Lincoln Square Synagogue. He is a charismatic religious leader who is well-known for the many prisoners and other alienated Jews whom he has brought back to religious observance.
“After a delightful Friday evening meal at my home, replete with inspiring Hassidic melodies and words of Torah, he suggested that we go for a shpatzir (Yiddish for a leisurely walk). I tried to explain that the general atmosphere of the West Side streets of Manhattan were hardly conducive to Sabbath sanctity - but to no avail. His steps led us in the direction of 72nd Street and Broadway, right in front of the window revealing the frenzied disco dancers.
“Did you ever see a mosquito captured in a glass jar?” he asked me in Yiddish (our language of discourse). “The mosquito is moving with all sorts of contortions and appears to be dancing. In reality, however, the mosquito is gasping for air. That is the situation of those “dancers” in the disco. They are really gasping for air, struggling in their search for a real Shabbos. Let's go in and show them Shabbos.”
“Before I could say anything, he was inside the disco. As a good host, I felt constrained to follow him. He sported a long beard and side-locks and was wearing a shtreimel (fur hat) and kapute (silk gaberdine), and I was dressed in my Sabbath Prince Albert, kippa and ritual fringes out. As we entered the disco, the band of Israelis immediately stopped playing. I immediately recognized three young men from the Synagogue - who seemed totally discombobulated; two ran out covering their faces, and the third tried to explain to me that he wasn't really there, that his mother had had some kind of attack and he thought that her doctor might be at the disco…
“Rav Grossman began to sing - Sabbath melodies. Almost miraculously, the men danced on one side, the women on the other. After about twenty minutes, he urged me to speak to them in English. I told them of the magical beauty, the joy, and the love of the Sabbath, and they listened with rapt attention. Rav Grossman led them in one more song - and we left.
“I cannot tell you that the miracle continued, it didn't take five minutes, and we could hear the resumption of the disco band music. However, before the next Yom Kippur, the Tel Aviv Disco closed down. I don't know why, because the owners wouldn't speak to rabbis. And for the next two years, at least a dozen young singles joined Lincoln Square Synagogue because they had been inspired by our Disco visit!”

The Sefer Yetzira explains the significance of each of the twelve Jewish months of the year, including which physical sense it corresponds to, as well as which of the twelve tribes it corresponds to, as well as other symbolisms. It states that the month of Tamuz corresponds to Reuven, the oldest of the tribes, and to the sense of sight[2]. The month of Av corresponds to Shimon and the sense of hearing.[3]
The months of Tamuz and Av contain the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. The Three Weeks begin on the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz and end with the fast of the ninth of Av. The primary causes of the destruction of the Batei Mikdash were because we failed to use our eyes and ears properly. Therefore, the rebuilding and consolation will occur when we rectify those shortcomings. That is the primary spiritual effort of these (summer) months – to channel and utilize our vision and hearing properly.
The sense of vision makes us particularly vulnerable because we are quick to trust what our eyes see, although we are often not privy to seeing the entire picture. In addition, how we interpret what we see is skewered by our preconceived notions.
At the beginning of parshas Shelach, Rashi asks why the Torah juxtaposes the narrative about the tragic story of the Spies with the story of Miriam contracting tzara’as, at the end of the previous parsha? Rashi answers, “Because she was afflicted due of matters of speech, for speaking against her brother. And these wicked ones saw and didn’t learn the lesson[4].”
What is the connection between the loshon hora Miriam spoke about Moshe[5] and the negative report the spies gave about Eretz Yisroel?   
Why did Miriam feel justified to speak to Aharon about what she felt was a shortcoming in Moshe?[6]
There is no question that Miriam was aware of Moshe’s greatness as a tzaddik and a prophet. But Miriam was also a great leader and prophetess. The poignant rebuke that Hashem told her is that she didn’t adequately recognize her younger brother’s greatness. True, she and Aharon were also prophets, but Moshe’s prophecy was on a higher level. Aharon and Miriam had failed to see what was beyond their purview, that Moshe had achieved levels of greatness beyond what they had attained. “Not so my servant Moshe; in My entire House he is trustworthy.”

The verses in three of the five chapters in Megillas Eicha form an acrostic based on the letters of the Aleph Bais. However, the letter פ precedes the letter ע. The gemara[7]explains that it is to hint that they (the spies) spoke with their mouths[8] what their eyes did not see[9].
Maharal[10] explains that the gemara doesn’t mean that the spies blatantly lied. When it talks about what they saw it isn’t referring to physical sight, but to things one understands through contemplation, pondering, and analyzation.
When the spies returned from Eretz Yisroel, they in fact related exactly what they saw. But their physical vision hadn’t presented them with the real truth. They were great men and should have seen beyond the surface to recognize what was really happening. It was true that the land was unconquerable, but that was without G-d’s promise and assurance. It was true that there were great people dying wherever they went, but that was as a favor to them, so they shouldn’t be noticed by the grieving citizens.
In that sense, the sin of the spies mirrored the sin of Miriam. Just as Miriam had not recognized greatness beyond what was immediately apparent, so did they did not realize and appreciate greatness beyond what they saw. They jumped to conclusions without contemplating the deeper meaning of what they were seeing.

The AriZal writes that when a farmer offers Bikkurim, it serves as a rectification for the sin of the spies. The Torah relates that the spies brought back pomegranates, dates, and grapes. When the Mishna[11] describes the process of bringing Bikkurim, it says: “A man goes down into his field and he sees a ripened date, a ripened cluster of grapes, a ripe pomegranate, he ties it with a string and declares “These are bikkurim”. The fact that the Mishna specifically uses as examples the same three fruits that the Spies brought back, demonstrates that they are connected.
When a farmer sets aside his first frits to be brought as Bikkurim, it demonstrates that he is seeing beyond the physical fruit before him. It symbolizes his awareness that the growth of his produce is not merely the result of his tireless efforts, but a result of the blessing of Hashem.
The spies looked at Eretz Yisroel with a physical perspective and saw negatively. The one brining Bikkurim recognized the sanctity of his produce, and that the greatness of the land traverses its physical landscape. That was the rectification for the sin of the Spies.

Our world is not only judgmental and opinionated, it is also often emphatically condemnatory. We are quick to forward articles about others, and to spread news, which maligns other individuals or groups that we may not agree with. We are very smug and confident that we know what’s best for everyone else and for the world. But the truth is that there is a world beyond what we see, and we are less privy to the full picture than we care to believe. It requires a modicum of humility to submit to the notion that what we see isn’t the whole truth.
Someone once asked Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita how he could judge someone favorably, when it seemed like the person did something wrong? Rav Nebenzhal’s poigniant response was: לא צריך לדון אותו  - you don’t have to judge him! If one is not a judge, or a parent, or teacher, or employer, in that situation, why should he judge him at all? Let Hashem do the judging in that case, and we can go back to trying to judge our own lives.

The month of Tamuz is a time to reflect and improve upon our vision – to realize that there are other perspectives and viewpoints besides ours, and to remember that there is far more going on in other people’s lives than we know. The mistake of Miriam, and subsequently the Spies was, that they thought they had a fuller picture than they in fact did.
A close friend often remarks how often one thinks he knows someone well, until he finds out that there was so much he didn’t know.
We must remember that there is much to see beyond what we see, and know that only Hashem can see everything.

   “Not so my servant Moshe”
   “These are bikkurim”.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor



[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shelach 5777.
[2] The name Reuven means sight; Reuven was so named because his mother Leah declared that G-d had seen her pain.
[3] The name Shimon means hearing; Shimon was so named because his mother Leah declared that G-d had heard her prayers.
[4] Literally “take discipline”
[5] When Eldad and Mediad began prophesizing unexpectedly, Zipporah, the wife of Moshe, commented to Miriam that she felt bad for their wives because now that they were prophets they would have to physically separate from her. Miriam then repeated to Aharon what Zipporah had said and noted that she and Aharon had not separated from their respective spouses, and they too were prophets. So why did Moshe have to separate from Zipporah? The Medrash notes that Miriam only spoke out of concern, she spoke about her beloved younger brother, and Moshe was not slighted in the least bit. Yet she was punished with tzara’as. It is a painful reminder about the severity of speaking loshon hora.
[6] It must always be reiterated that we proceed with awe and caution when we speak about the flaws and shortcomings of our greatest leaders. We only do so in order for us to learn the vital lessons we can relate to on our level.
[7] Sanhedrin 104b
[8] The letterפ  is called “peh” which means mouth
[9] The letter ע is called “ayin” which means eye. The gemara is explaining that in Eicha the peh comes before the ayin to symbolize that the spies – who gave their evil report on the ninth of Av – gave a report about things they didn’t actually see.
[10] Netzach Yisroel chapter 9
[11] Bikkurim 3:1